When I was much younger, I memorized Romans 12 one summer, for some prize. I haven’t forgotten the first paragraph or two, about being a living sacrifice, about renewing my mind. I remember how J.B. Phillips paraphrased the second verse: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.”
Paul was writing this letter to a group of people who were following Jesus and living in Rome. They were in the minority. They were talking about teachings that stood at complete odds with the plurality of the culture. And in this section of the letter, Paul offers this counsel: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
What’s compelling about this counsel is that it is not a standard that he offers for the empire or the emperor. In fact, elsewhere in his letter, Paul encourages respect for the very authorities that had kept him imprisoned. He knew that the government wasn’t polite toward him, but that wasn’t going to change his politeness toward the government. It’s not a call to abandon beliefs. The beginning of this chapter and rest of his letter makes clear that Paul was pretty specific about a lot of things.
These words are, however, a request to adopt a tone of peacemaking.
He’s echoing the words of Jesus, to wage peace rather than war. He’s echoing the words of God through Jeremiah to the people of Israel living in exile: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
You and I may disagree about how to understand the Bible. But with what I understand, before God I dare not pick fights.